Friday, July 20, 2007

Someone asked a question about editing, so I thought I'd try and answer it. After viewing the list of Emmy nominations, LA was curious about the difference between multi-camera editing and single-camera editing. She couldn't understand why someone would shoot with only a single camera, and wondered it it might be due to monetary constraints. I'll try my best to explain, but since I've never actually worked in multi-camera editing, I could be partially wrong. Anyone who can correct me, please jump in.

I'll start with multi-camera editing, which I know the least about. The best example of a multi-camera show is nearly any sitcom, especially if it has a laugh track. These shows are shot on a stage, I think generally with an audience, so they have to run the show sometimes from beginning to end. I believe they do two full run-throughs of the show, and then grab any pickups they might need. The point is that all the actors are up there acting their hearts out at the same time. Since there are several cameras shooting at once (I think typically four), every actor has to have good makeup, hair, wardrobe. Everyone has to be lit correctly. The director has to be directing ALL of those actors at the same time and everything has to happen at once.

For example, think of Friends. If there are 4 cameras, one's on Chandler, one's on Joey, one on Monica, one on Phoebe. If there are more than 4 people, I assume they cover with two-shots on the lesser actors for that particular scene. While that scene is playing out, every actor on that stage is conceivably on camera at all times, so they all have to be "on." Since everything is shot at once, run through twice, there isn't much footage. I'm just making assumptions, but for a half-hour sitcom, I imagine there might be 6 hours of footage. That's 6 hours, and a couple of takes for every camera for every scene. I think that's a pretty liberal assumption.

Now, let's talk about single-camera editing. A one hour show runs at about 44 minutes without commercials. The typical shooting schedule for a show that length is 8 days. Remember - a sitcom - a couple of run-throughs. A single camera show shoots for EIGHT DAYS. I sitcom will shoot a full 22 pages in a day. A single-camera show will shoot about 6. With single camera shooting, only one or two actors are on the spot. Only one person has to be lit, made up, dressed, and hitting all their marks and lines at the same time. The director can concentrate solely on that single actor and his performance. It doesn't matter if the off camera people are missing or flubbing their lines - he'll get to them when it's their turn. And he may run certain actors or angles again and again and again creating a ton of footage to be looked at by the editor.

Here's the confusing part - single-camera shows often use more than one camera to shoot at one time. On BL, we did this a lot, especially for big scenes with a lot of coverage like a courtroom scene. But if there were two or three cameras going, they were still all pointed at the same person. In this case, the multiple cameras are used to save time. If a director wants to do a ton of set-ups, he can do more than one at the same time. The one actor is still the only one on the spot, but one camera may be head on, one may be a 3/4 shot, and one may be a profile whipping between the actor and the person on the stand (pretty typical for BL). On an 8 day shoot, for 44 minutes of edited picture, we regularly shot around 30 hours of footage. That's a lot more takes to look through.

So, I won't say one or the other type of editing is better than the other, they're just very different skill sets, which is why they are separated into two different categories in the nominations. And just so it's clear - feature films are single-camera. In answer to the money question, I would guess that the opposite is true. Multi-camera would be less expensive, I would think.

A fun movie to watch about an editor (if you can find it) is Modern Romance with Albert Brooks from 1981.

The song of the day is "Gypsy" by Fleetwood Mac off their 1982 album Mirage. I have to say, I've never really followed them, but I've always liked them and this album is really good. When I was working in radio, someone did one of those spoofs which was a fake radio ad (a la K-Tel) selling a Stevie Nicks greatest hit record. Everytime it would play the sound of the song, her lyrics were totally incomprehensible. They selling point was that it had been "digitally remastered for stereo inaudability."


Blogger Diane said...

Thanks for the information! It would be great too if some time you could explain how the editor determines how to edit all that footage together . . .

The one time I saw a sit com filmed - it was the old Jamie Lee Curtis/Richard Lewis sitcom, I don't think there was any scene only run through twice - some were run through 4, 5 or 6 times - it was a bit difficult to have a "fresh" crowd reaction that many times - though I'm sure that is all doctored

7:10 PM  
Blogger LA said...

Wow, Edit, thanks for that detailed explanation!

As an aside, Scrubs is single-camera, but they did an episode inside an episode in four cameras (the one with Clay Aiken), and it was the first time I really appreciated the difference between the two styles (and what a tremendous difference at that). But in reading your explanation about the difference in hours of footage for the editor to sift through, DAMN, that's a huge difference. It's almost like it's two different jobs, editing for single or multi cameras. It almost begs the follow-up question, the answer to which probably varies from show to show, of just how hands-on is the director in the editing process?

I just added Modern Romance to my queue.

On to Fleetwood Mac. As you probably know, I'm a big fan. Mirage was a very, very dark time for the band. Lindsey Buckingham was very alienated from the rest of the members during the sessions and only made one more album with them (until the recent reunion). That said, I have a killer acoustic bootleg of Gypsy, just Lindsey, Stevie, and an acoustic guitar.

The fake Stevie Greatest Hits ad sounds hysterical.

Thanks again, Edit. I appreciate you taking the time to explain.

7:10 PM  
Blogger EditThis said...

Diane - Thanks for the info. I really know nothing about mult-camera shows, so I was sort of pulling info out of the air. And yes, that's a question for another time.

la - No problem. And the director question must wait for another time as well. BTW - you can usually tell if a show is multi-cam if it has a laugh track. There's been a resurgence of single camera half hour shows in the past 5 years or so. (Such as The Office and My Name Is Earl).

8:30 PM  
Blogger Kelly J. Compeau said...

Yeah, thanks for taking away some of the mystery and confusion. I really didn't get the difference between single and multiple camera, either.

9:06 AM  
Blogger NB said...

Thanks for the detailed explanation between the two.
I had seen several sitcoms taped over the years and the one that stands out in my mind is Roseanne where they shot an entire episode with about two retakes. You wouldn't have thought with that cast, but everyone was right on their mark , knew their lines and blew right through it. Maybe because it was a live audience. Does that make a difference?
Also, one much of the final product is the editor's input? I know you are working with the director, but is any of it your decision or style,or does the editor just follow the director's orders?
Sorry, one more, Did you work with
the music or is that added after you had finished the final product?

9:25 AM  
Blogger NB said...

Oops, forgot to ask, What is your opinion of the nominations this year and do you think your old show will do well?

Does the editing get nominated for Emmys or is that another award?

9:27 AM  

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